Governor Ralph Northam is set to sign historic legislation putting an end to the state's death penalty. Virginia will become the first southern state to axe the death penalty.
Throughout American history, Virginia has executed more people than most southern states. Since the 16000s, the state has executed 1,300 people. Executions within the state have picked up rapidly in recent years. Within the last 45 years, the state has executed 113 people. Only Texas has executed more residents during that time span.
Historically, capital punishment has typically been used disproportionately toward Black Virginians. From 1900 through 1969, more than six dozen Black Virginians were executed for rape, attempted rape or robbery. In that same time period, no white men were executed for these crimes. Furthermore, 145 Black Virginians were executed for murder from 1900 through 1969. In comparison, 45 white Virginians were executed for murder over that 70-year span.
“Virginia’s death penalty is rooted in racial oppression,” LaKeisha Cook of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy told The Appeal.
“We stopped lynching Black people and instead started executing them so we just traded in the noose for the electric chair.”
When discussing capital punishment, racial disparities are not unique to Virginia. As reported by the ACLU, 43% of those who have been executed since 1976 are people of color. Of those currently awaiting execution, 55% of them are people of color. Over the last few months of his presidency, Donald Trump executed an astounding 13 people.
States like Utah, Texas and Florida still allow capital punishment. However, legislation has been introduced to abolish the death penalty in places like Ohio, Nevada and South Carolina. At the federal level, legislation has been introduced to get rid of the death penalty, but it still appears a goal that needs more work to be reached.
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